Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Willing workers, part III (Nehemiah 3)

Here's another important thing we can see in this chapter: some workers were not only willing to work, they were willing to do the less glamorous, or less desirable tasks.
Check out verse fourteen:
 Malchijah the son of Rechab, the official of the district of Beth-haccherem repaired the Refuse Gate. He built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars. (v 14)
The Refuse Gate?
Also called the Dung Gate.
The Dung Gate was located in the southern section of the wall, and was called that because all of the garbage and filth of the city was carried out this gate. The garbage pit of Jerusalem was located where the Tyropean Valley met another valley called Hinnom. (The Valley of Hinnom was where the backslidden people of Judah sacrificed their children to Molech - the story is in II Kings 23, if you want to check it out.) There was a third valley called the Kidron, and where these three came together was the garbage pit that burned night and day. That pit was called "Gehennom" or "Gehenna" and that is the same word that is translated "hell" in scripture.
Probably pretty aromatic, no?
And don't you guess that there were a lot more people who volunteered to repair the Fountain Gate, or the Sheep Gate, or almost any other gate?
But Malchijah realized there was a job to be done.
A less glamorous job than the other gates.
A less desirable task than the other gates and sections of wall.
And he buckled down to do it.
How in the world does what Malchijah did apply to us?
No matter what walk of life we are in, in whatever job or task that we do, we need to work as unto the Lord. We need to be willing to take the less glamorous job. The less desirable task. And be the best worker that we can be. Our hard work and our willingness is not really for our employer, or for anyone else here on earth, actually . . . it's for the Lord. He sees, and He is pleased and honored when we do good work.
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, (Ephesians 6:7)
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Colossians 3:24)
Malchijah was a willing worker on a less than glamorous task: repairing the Refuse Gate of the city. We can strive to be like him in our daily lives, as we work to bring glory to our Lord.
We can also look at the gate itself and remind ourselves of the need for constant cleansing. The need to be cleansed daily, and be grateful for the grace God extends to us.
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 7:1)
Yep, Nehemiah 3 is an awesome reminder of how we SHOULD function as believers . . . cooperatively, not competitively. Being willing to work outside our own comfort zone when we are needed. And willing to take the tasks that are not so desirable, in order to accomplish God's purposes. Sometimes we Christians really do a championship job of this . . . when the menfolk gather to remodel an older member's home so that he can get around inside with his new wheelchair. When the ladies come together to plan a fundraiser, or to coordinate a baptism or special children's service.
Peter said that if we know Christ, we are a vital part of the body!
At some point, the Lord wants us to get involved:
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11)
Nehemiah 3 . . . godly leaders. Willing workers.
Lord, help us to be what you would have us to be!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Willing workers, part II

We talked last time about how these willing workers in Nehemiah were willing to cooperate; and that they discovered that each of their efforts complemented the others'.
Today we will look at being willing to work outside our areas of strength. Some folks might call it "pushing the edge of the envelope" or "working outside our comfort zone."

Let's check out the first verse of chapter three:
Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. (v 1)
I'm betting that the building skills to rebuild the Sheep Gate and build the walls as far as the Tower of the Hundred (and the Tower of Hananel) were not skills that the high priest and the other priests learned as part of their rabbinical training! 
Quotations from Moses. Absolutely.
Lessons from Abraham. Yup, and much more.
Building gates? Not so much.
But they rolled up the sleeves of their robes, figuratively speaking, and perhaps literally, and got to work!
Maybe they had to get some pointers on the building part. Maybe a short tutorial one evening on how to construct a gate. Maybe getting someone with experience to be with them on the first day or so.
Whatever it took, these folks were determined, and they were successful!
Verses nine and twelve tell us that there were paper-pushers who learned to build! What I mean is that these verses tell us that city officials joined in the work.
Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. (v 9)
They may have been more used to doing "official" duties in the city, but here they are channeling their inner construction worker! They didn't look down their noses, either, or view all of this manual labor as below their dignity.
In verse eight, we see that goldsmiths and perfume makers alike joined in this rugged work.
Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. (v 8)
These were not people who were accustomed to this - I bet that they had aching muscles at night where they never had ached before!
In verse twelve, we see another surprise:
Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters. (v 12)
The way that is written, I believe those ladies were doing more than handing out cups of lemonade and chicken salad sandwiches!
The point of all this is that we need to be open to work on things that may be outside of our comfort zone. We may think, "Well, that's not my spiritual gift" when a task needs willing hands. But there are many jobs where we all need to pitch in, whether it's our gift or not. Or whether we've EVER done that before, or not. Or whether we can work alongside someone we are comfortable with, or not.
In a nutshell, EVERYONE got involved in Nehemiah 3.
And we need to be willing to do the same.
The New Testament is clear: if we are believers, we are in the ministry, in the service of Christ, and working to accomplish His purpose. A familiar passage in Matthew tells us that we will give an account of our ministry to the Master someday (Matthew 25:14-30).
Do we feel we are a "one talent" Christian? No task is unimportant. And our Father expects each one of us to use what He has entrusted to us.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Willing workers

Last week, we finished up our discussions on being godly leaders, wherever God places us. This week, we will look at the responsibilities of "followers."
Because, in order to accomplish God's purpose, we need not only godly leaders but willing workers who are ready to do their part!

Remember what the people said?
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:18b)
Nehemiah told them of his vision of what God wanted to accomplish. Working together, Nehemiah and the people accomplished what no one could have done individually.
They were willing to cooperate, to coordinate their work with one another in order to make the overall cause move forward. We've already looked at how some of them worked in front of their own homes. Did you see when you read the chapter that some people came from outlying cities to help?
The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. (Verses 2, 5, and 7)
You can check verses 13, 14, 16, and 17 for more examples of folks who came from "out of town" to help with the work. They worked together with the city dwellers willingly, and then they went home when the work was completed.
Are you like me? Do you wonder why they were willing to work amidst the rubble and the ridicule (of the nay-sayers) and help accomplish God's purpose?
I guess that they may have felt they would be more secure in their villages, if the capital in Jerusalem was strong and secure. Or maybe they were inspired by the knowledge that the temple would be secure behind the walls; they could safely go there and take part in the important feast times.  I really think that beyond these reasons, they were willing to work for the overall cause so that the name of the Lord and of His people would no longer be a reproach among the nations. There would be respect for the nation and glory for their God.

I also like to read about how they coordinated the project so that all of the parts fit together perfectly. Each of them knew what his task was -- and did it -- but he did it with his eyes open and looking for harmony and cooperation with the others . . . it wouldn't have worked if one man built his section, but he didn't interlock it with the section right next to his. Have you ever played with a child and their Lego building blocks? Or other kind of blocks that interlock together? If you have, you know that one section of a wall needs to be locked into the next section. If it's not, it will fall over!
In the same way, the men building the gates had to coordinate and cooperate with the men building the walls around the gates!
In God's kingdom, it's not enough to have a whole bunch of independent ministries alongside each other. It's good to be involved, and to be loyal, but some people carry it a bit too far, and almost choose sides, determining which ministries to support and work in. But it's not a competition, folks!
What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:12)
It's important to make certain that we are working together in supporting the overall cause of Christ.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (I Corinthians 1:10)
Some comedian long ago said that all they needed to know in life they learned in kindergarten....yes, we were taught to cooperate, weren't we? (Grin)
Two are better than one,    because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,    one can help the other up.But pity anyone who falls    and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
When we focus on cooperation, we will find that we complement each other. What do I mean? Well, everyone in chapter three couldn't do the same job. Some worked on the walls; some worked on the gates. Hanging a large city gate was not an easy task! Some were strong enough to carry heavy stones or large timbers. Others struggled to carry bricks. But each worker was important to the cause. There were no "little" or "unimportant" jobs.

Let's look again at what Paul has to tell us:
 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  (I Corinthians 12:18-21)
Just like the willing workers in Nehemiah's day, each of us has a specific and important job to do. We all depend on each other in order for the cause of Christ to be accomplished.

More on this next time!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Working in harmony - leaders

Not to plow again the furrows we've already worked on, but just a reminder that we are studying leadership skills because each of us is a leader in some way . . .

The next skill I saw Nehemiah exemplify was that he was good at delegating. We hear that word a lot in the business world . . . Merriam Webster says it means, "to entrust to another." Could be a task, could be authority. Nehemiah could not possibly have done all this work by himself. He couldn't build the entire wall! He had to entrust it to the workers and give them the authority to get it done. I'm reminded of a quote by President Reagan:

              Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate
              authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided
              upon is being carried out.      (Ronald Reagan)

Sometimes, to be honest, it's easier to do the job myself. Been there? Me too; in fact, it has happened so many times that I even have the t-shirt! (Grin)  But I must admit, that as the job gets larger, the need to delegate to others gets larger, too!
Now, some leaders want to keep an eye on every aspect of the project -- I kinda think that is a recipe for burnout. As believers, we know that God has given gifts to all of His people. They are each competent to carry out a portion of His work.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11)
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)
By delegating, leaders can involve more people in the project and get more done.
Now, delegating doesn't mean that we walk away and don't pay attention! Leaders don't just dictate and leave. They don't dump a task on someone and never look back or offer to help. There's a fine line here . . .while Nehemiah delegated the work, it appears that he went along inspecting the progress, talking to the workers, and helping them keep things moving toward the goal. Look at verse twenty of chapter three:
Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.  (Nehemiah 3:20)
It appears that Baruch was enthusiastic and that he was doing a great job!  Nehemiah paid attention to who was working and how they were working, too.
It's important, too, for leaders to stay focused -- not get distracted by those who are not cooperating. Nehemiah mentions (just in passing, no judgmental comments seen, no disapproving stares) the nobles of Tekoa who refused to join the project. We're not told why they refused, whether they reacted out of petty pride, or whether they had some beef with the next builder along the wall, or whatever. I'm betting they were plenty embarrassed (and they deserved it) when the people of Tekoa not only bent their shoulders to the work, but built TWO sections of the wall! Nehemiah didn't waste any more time on the nobles who refused to cooperate. Instead, he worked with the ones who were willing and enthusiastic about the building - those who wouldn't get involved were the losers in the long term.

Working in harmony is easier when we are all on the same page -- and when we have willing, godly leaders. We'll pick up our study in chapter three again next week . . . .

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Working in harmony - as leaders

Did you peek at the title up there and think to yourself, "This post will have nothing to do with me!" Au contraire! This has to do with each one of us!
We may shy away from leadership. We may not want or have a title that includes it. But we have a Savior Who says, "Lead!" In John 21, Jesus tells Peter to feed and care for His sheep, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we should lead others to know Who He is and also share what He is doing in our lives.
Every believer is a leader, whether we are talking about being at home, with friends, or on the job.  Paul almost wrote a classified ad in Titus, and it applies to all of us. Take a moment and read Titus 1: 6-9 . . . he uses words that we should aspire to: blameless, faithful, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Even being a good parent is mentioned! As individuals, spouses, parents, and friends, we have the responsibility to lead. We may not feel we are leaders. We may even look to the future about a position we wish we had. Instead, God calls us to be responsible for the job we already have -- showing the world Jesus by being like Him.

So, in a nutshell, we are all leaders, whether we feel like it or not! Seems like we should look into the scriptures to see how to lead, eh?
First, leaders don't feel they have to take all the credit. Nehemiah didn't want a huge sign over the main gate, or a bronze plaque that would read: The Nehemiah Memorial Wall. Instead, Nehemiah was committed to building the wall so that God's name would be exalted in Jerusalem, and additionally, so that His people would no longer be in reproach. He didn't need pats on the back, or congratulations. He didn't desire the admiration of others. Nehemiah knew that God would see his efforts. He was working because he wanted to hear "well done" from the Lord.
Remember me with favor, my God. (Nehemiah 13:31b)
Second, a leader needs to motivate people.  The Jews, the covenant people of Jehovah, had been back in the homeland for about ninety years, but the wall had not been built. Nehemiah comes on the scene and gets everybody fired up about the idea! They went to work and put up the wall in record-setting time, even with opposition to the work.
Motivation is key. We've all experienced this. I know a young person who first thought it would be great to have "group projects" in college. She found out that some of the participants were motivated and worked hard, while others were content to slide along on the work the others completed - not really contributing much to the effort. And haven't we all had a project or task that didn't get completed for a long time? We knew it needed to be done. We procrastinated. We made excuses. We were just not motivated. Then something changed. Maybe we suddenly saw the value in having the task done. Perhaps it was a deadline, like "clean the house before everyone arrives for Thanksgiving dinner." (Grin) Maybe it was more like, "I'm tired of seeing all those weeds in the yard, so I'm going to pull them and put down some mulch." Once we are motivated, the project gets finished fairly quickly!

What's difficult about motivating a group of people is that what is inspiring and "fires up" some will turn off others. Look at verse five:
And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord. (v 5)
Even Nehemiah, with his people skills, couldn't get the nobles (tribal leaders) of Tekoa to join the project! One wise, God-inspired way to motivate many of the people was to assign them to work on the portion of the wall that they had particular interest in: the priests worked on the Sheep Gate, where the people would bring in sacrifices to the temple. Others (verses 20, 23, 28-30) repaired the wall in front of their own homes -- that's a real incentive to do a good job!

When you read chapter three, are you impressed as I am, that Nehemiah had a smooth operation going here? He had done some extensive planning and organizing. Good leaders do that.
Nehemiah had figured out in advance how to go about this huge task. He broke the project down into manageable units. He then assigned the available workers to those units and worked it out so that they coordinated with each other. Everything fit together because of planning and prayer. We saw last week that prayer and planning are not mutually exclusive! As long as we don't rely more on our own plans than on our Father, there's nothing wrong with plans and organization. We should remember to be flexible, though, and adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the people involved. The body of Christ can be compared to a living organism, and I remember just enough of my college biology to know that living organisms are highly organized (whether the secular world likes it or not, the complex processes of living things point directly at the intelligent design of an awesome Creator!). Planning and organization are tools of good leaders, just like knowing how to motivate people, and not "hogging" all the credit.
We may not "feel" like we are leaders, but as we have noted before, there is always someone who is watching us, and we are leaders to them. We will learn more about leadership skills next time!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Working in harmony -- get on the same page!

Last time we met, we noted that God wants His people to reflect His image, by working together in harmony. By cooperating. By being examples of unity.
But that's easier to say than to do, right?
Nehemiah has some tips for us . . . I think that chapter three is important because it shows us how to work together to accomplish God's purpose.

The first thing we need is to all be on the same page! Or, to put it another way, we need a shared vision of the task at hand.

It's impossible to work together if everyone has a different notion of what is needed. Looking at Nehemiah's third chapter, what if one man had thought the purpose was to construct a highly decorative boundary. Perhaps a nice fence with pleasing architectural details.
The next man along might envision that a wall like a fortress was needed. Huge stones fitting together tightly.
Perhaps another might think the wall needed a walkway along the top, and structured openings for soldiers to use their weapons . . .
You know what we would have there?
They needed to agree on what they were building so that they could work together harmoniously.
The task confronting Nehemiah and the people was a specific one. It was measureable: to rebuild the wall around the city of Jerusalem, in order to defend against their enemies. Everyone could work together and accomplish the task.

In our real-life business, we often deliver quotes to companies on completing a task. It may be a brand new product that is going to be designed and manufactured. Along the way, there are what we call "deliverables." These are steps in the process that are definite - they can be assessed and measured. For instance, when a design is finished, there are drawing files and assembly instructions. When manufacturing begins on a new product or device, there will be prototypes delivered and approval will be needed. At every step along the way, there are "check boxes" to tick off, to know that things are moving along as needed.

But today, the task of believers is not so easily attained. Progress on the purpose of the church is not as easily measured. It's not a question of ticking off boxes for steps completed.
Well, as believers, our task is to see the Great Commission fulfilled by proclaiming the gospel to every people group on earth. But it's even more than just evangelism -- the task requires raising up congregations in the people groups that will teach their people to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28). And we have seen in previous studies that the supreme goal of God's purpose is that He will be glorified; His purpose is that His name would be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven.

So, our goal is to spread our own passion for God's glory to others; to spread it among the nations of the world by telling of the gospel and by helping all of God's children to treasure Jesus Christ as their greatest joy. That's our vision. Our shared vision of the task at hand.
And even though it may not be immediately obvious, everything that we do for the Lord should have that shared vision in mind. It may not be clear how every task contributes to the effort, though. For example, if we get the opportunity to witness to someone about Jesus and he or she responds to the gospel, that is truly obvious! It is related to the vision!
But what about sweeping the foyer, or cleaning up the kitchen after a church children's event? I suppose one could say that helping with those tasks probably won't directly result in many souls being added to the kingdom. BUT!  They are vital tasks that contribute to the overall cause! Think about it . . . it no one chose to do those things, the well-being of the church could be hindered, and the unbelievers who walked in would not have a good impression of the unity and work ethic of the believers. Or if someone did those tasks and grumbled the whole time about how messy everyone was, and why didn't they make sure they cleaned up after themselves . . .
Or we could do our tasks with joy in our hearts because God has saved us and made us part of His kingdom. He gets all the glory, and our lives radiate the joy of knowing we are redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ.

Being "on the same page."
It's important to work together to accomplish God's purpose!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Prayer requests

We've talked many times here on the study blog about prayer. I know that many have requested prayer. Many have prayed alongside those who are across the globe from them. The miles vanish as we join in asking God for our requests.
Prayer is not a ritual; it doesn't depend on our closing our eyes. We don't have to kneel. We don't even have to sit down.
Just like Nehemiah, we can pray while walking, working, or driving (well, Nehemiah would have been riding his horse, but you get my drift!). God responds to a two word cry for help in the middle of a busy afternoon -- just like He does to a focused prayer time after we read and consider a scripture passage. Prayer especially does NOT have to be complicated. Our Father is delighted in any simple words that we offer up to Him.

In the past, we've heard from prayer warriors who are lifting up loved ones who need the healing touch of the Great Physician's hand. We have prayed alongside blog readers who are dealing with health issues themselves. I'm humbled to be one of those who contend with the devil and his minions in defense of other believers - I'm blessed at this point in my life to have good health.

I'd like to ask you today, are you facing a difficult disease, an illness or condition, and want to cry out to God for healing? Do you feel a little bit unsettled, scared, or unsure? There are so many verses about prayer in our Bible -- and so many that assure us of our Father's love, His compassion, and His power to change things in our lives. The Bible tells us that through prayer, God can speak to us; He can use us to work miracles for His glory. And it tells us, too, that sometimes His answer is "no," or "wait." It's those times that we need to ask Him, "what are you working to accomplish in my life?"

I'm praying these days for my own mother, as I pray for some of you and your family members. My mother's lymphoma was paused by some infusions, but it has returned. She is unwilling to tell me much about her condition, but our Father knows, and I'm asking Him to work in her life and in my own.  When we pray and come to God completely surrendered, and we're expectant to let His Spirit work in and through us, we can rest assured that His plan to prosper us, and to give us a hope and a future, will be completed. Perhaps by a miraculous healing. Perhaps in other ways. Perhaps through our loved one going to be with Him. That's a difficult thing for our minds to wrap around. I know. I know. It is.
I wondered if the thoughts I have written below might be helpful to anyone . . . I offer them with the prayer that they will bless someone who reads them.

Father, you know us so well. You created me and the person I'm praying for. You know the number of hairs that we have on our heads! Your Word tells me that You even know my thoughts before I ever open my mouth to speak.  Lord, You said for us to come to You and ask for the needs of our lives, and I know that only You have the final word on the number of years we will live and serve You here on this earth.
Father, I'm coming to You today as Your child. I'm longing to hear from You and to see Your divine healing. There's a lot that I don't understand -- there's a lot that I just accept with faith. But I know that in the Bible, I read that with one touch, or one word, You can make the person I'm praying for whole. Please, Lord, forgive me of my sins and begin the healing process from the inside of me, and work outward to the loved one I pray for.
Father, I don't know what Your will is for my loved one. I'm just desperately seeking Your face because my heart is hurting for them. I'm not going to make promises or bargains in exchange for healing. I'm simply bowing before You so that I can tell you the desire of my heart - I want my loved one (just like I want this for myself) to have as many years on earth as possible, to love You and to love others, and to become more like You. It doesn't matter to me how you choose to accomplish it. If You use doctors to provide the healing, then please give them wisdom -- and bring someone like me into their lives to tell them they are Your instruments. If You use prayer, and the doctors are shocked by the improvement, please give me the courage to witness to them in Your name. And if You choose to bring my loved one home to heaven, You will still deserve all the praise and glory that I can give You.
Thank you, thank you Lord, for all of the blessings You have given me.

I hope that if you have a prayer request, you will feel free to share it here. It's an honor to pray alongside you.